The new workplace manslaughter laws in Victoria will hold employers responsible for workplace deaths. The Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and other matters) Bill 2019 was passed by the Victorian Parliament in November last year. According to a Worksafe Victoria news release, this law is expected to come into effect by 1 July 2020.
The new law has the potential to find employers, organisations and its senior officers responsible for workplace deaths.
According to a media release by the Hon Jill Hennessy (Minister for Workplace Safety), "Too many Victorians have had their lives tragically cut short after simply going to work and this new offence will hold employers who don't put safety first to account."
Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia are the other states in Australia with similar workplace manslaughter laws. Since its introduction in 2018 in Queensland, there has been one recorded prosecution for workplace manslaughter against a Brisbane recycling company in October 2019.
Who can be charged with this offence?
The offence of workplace manslaughter can be applied to a person (and their officers) who hold duties under Part 3 of the OHS Act. Those who fall under this category are:
- directors and secretaries of companies
- partners of a partnership or joint venture
- the trustee of a trust
- persons who participate in the making of decisions that affect a substantial part of the organisation's business
- persons who have the capacity to affect significantly the organisation's financial standing
Employees and volunteers are not culpable.
What penalties can be applied?
A maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for individuals with a maximum fine of $16.5 million for companies. The law can also hold an organisation liable, without determining individual fault.
Who and what is covered by the offence?
The death of employees, contractors and members of the public (bystanders) are all covered. The workplace manslaughter law can even be applied if a person's death occurs sometime after the relevant incident.
What is negligent conduct?
Worksafe Victoria defines negligent conduct as, when a person:
- does not adequately manage, control or supervise their employees;
- does not take reasonable action to fix a dangerous situation, in circumstances where failing to do so causes a high risk of death, serious injury or serious illness.
Who will investigate workplace manslaughter in Victoria?
Worksafe Victoria will be the investigative authority and will use their powers under the OHS Act to prosecute.
To initiate charges it must be established that the accused's conduct caused the death. "The acts or omission to act must have contributed significantly to the death, or have been a substantial and operative cause of it".
Additionally, "the acts or omission to act must be such that an ordinary person would hold them, as a matter of common sense, to be a cause of the death".
What can you do to ensure you are protected?
Prevention is the best protection. By reviewing your workplace OHS practices often and thoroughly, you can keep your employees and workers safe and out of harm’s way. Examine every activity within and around your workplace that may have a risk component, and address any shortcoming.
Working at height is classified as high risk; therefore, failure to provide effective equipment, systems and procedures to ensure safe access and fall protection for any work to be carried out on top of your buildings could be seen as negligent. This covers not only employees but also subcontractors and their workers.
Site audits and checks will highlight any area that presents increased risk of injury to workers. Conduct this quick 3-minute Height Safety Health Check to ascertain your level of risk.
For more information:
Download the Victorian State Government's Fact Sheet which details the key elements of the new laws.
Read our Top 7 Tips for Building Owners.
Keep our interactive document What is the Law on hand as your go-to guide for your legal requirements.
Our Working at Heights Manual and Working at Heights Checklist offer practical tips and assist with ensuring your compliance and reducing your liability.
Read Working at Height - Safety on a Page before conducting any work at height.